By Sharon Tomiko Santos
For Northwest Asian Weekly
Chair, Board of Trustees
Seattle Community College District
1500 Harvard Avenue
Seattle, WA 98122
Dear Mr. Hill,
I write to express my bitter disappointment in the decision of the Seattle Community College District Board of Trustees to pass over a highly qualified native son for the position of Chancellor. This Community College District is in dire need of a competent leader, someone who already knows the system, the city, and the key constituencies; someone who can help to unify these disparate elements, which have endured too much turmoil of late, under a common vision and purpose. There is little time or patience for a new administrator to get up to speed on the complex challenges and relationships that must be addressed immediately to restore internal and external confidence in the management and oversight of the Seattle Community College District. This is why I am shocked that the Trustees decided to forego the selection of Mark Mitsui as the next Chancellor.
Mark Mitsui served the Seattle Community College District with distinction for many years in the position of vice president for South Seattle Community College and, then, as president of North Seattle Community College. His reputation for innovation and his quest to expand the promise of higher education for students who are largely invisible to the mainstream brought him to the attention of the U. S. Department of Education. Impressed with his accomplishments, the federal government recruited Mr. Mitsui to contribute his vision, his knowledge, and his experience to serve a larger constituency of community and technical colleges across the nation. If the federal government recognized the caliber of talent that Mr. Mitsui has to offer, why was his record not worthy of the very institution that was his launching pad? Indeed, upon appointing Mitsui to serve as the president of North Seattle Community College in 2010, the current departing Chancellor noted, “With his long history in the region, he also understands our city and what we need to accomplish to best serve it.”
Some of the qualities and assets that Mr. Mitsui possesses have unquantifiable significance.
He was born and raised in the Central Puget Sound where he graduated from the public schools before pursuing further education at our state universities and, subsequently, beginning his career in the field as a teacher at Renton Technical College. His long family roots in this community equip him with an understanding of the mores and values we cherish in the Pacific Northwest as well as an appreciation of the historic role that community and technical colleges have played in developing the fabric of our local economy. In fact, I am certain that these are the very conditions fueling his interest and commitment to higher education here. The urge to contribute back to the very people and institutions that shaped one’s life is a force more powerful than a general abstract commitment to improve education.
Mark Mitsui not only brought his resume and relationships to the table; he also brought his heart and his history back home. I see this as the most regrettable aspect of the decision of the Board of Trustees and as a great disservice to the students – current and future – of the Seattle Community Colleges.
In sum, I am deeply dismayed that the Seattle Community College District Board of Trustees chose to bypass a person who is the product of our own public schools and universities to lead our local community college system. What message are we sending to our students? “Go to college, and then go away.” For shame.
— Sharon Tomiko Santos
House of Representatives
37th Legislative District
This letter was addressed to the Seattle Community College District Board of Trustees, leaders of the Washington Student Achievement Council and Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges, members of the Senate Higher Education Committee and House Higher Education Committee, the Washington State Speaker, the Lieutenant Governor, and Governor Jay Inslee.